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Summary:

What is the obligation that companies have to their customers to listen to — and act on — the feedback they receive from customers? Well, if you are in the Social Media Age of 2009, the obligation is high, the pressure intense. No longer can developers […]

Twitter _ Search - #fixrepliesWhat is the obligation that companies have to their customers to listen to — and act on — the feedback they receive from customers? Well, if you are in the Social Media Age of 2009, the obligation is high, the pressure intense. No longer can developers put out a product or service, form a business around it, and then expect to run their business however they choose. Today, customers have the unprecedented power of social media communication tools at their fingertips, and feedback is no longer relegated to easily ignored emails that pass through the ether into oblivion. Feedback is now big news.

Take this week’s #twitterfail and #fixreplies fiasco. Social media darling Twitter “silently” implemented a fundamental feature change — removing the ability to view @replies from people you are not following — and the Twitterstream is in turmoil with tweets and retweets of displeasure, protest, petition-signing and Twitter-bashing. What did Twitter do wrong?

Twitter — like Facebook a month or so ago — failed to fully understand the turbocharged power of social media that could actually work against it. Companies can no longer make major business decisions without the input — and approval — of their very vocal customers, or so it seems. The irony is that many of these companies are the creators of the same powerful communications tools that are suddenly used against them when customers don’t approve of their business moves.

So what are companies to do when the entire landscape of customer input and feedback mechanisms has gone haywire? Here are some thoughts about this new feedback frenzy that can send a company reeling from the impact of input.

1. Pressure for transparency rules. Now, more than ever, there is tremendous consumer pressure for companies to be transparent about their every move, their strategic thinking, their process. Set some internal guidelines for how your company will handle this pressure — then post them publicly. Brace yourself for the onslaught of opinion.

2. Community voting sucks. Do you really want to relegate your strategic business decision-making to thousands or millions of users? You may not have a choice, but how realistic is this? From experience, I cringe at the thought of making any decision by committee, and now our “committees” seem to be growing exponentially, globally and without an end in sight. Make a decision about your decision-making process now, but realize that anything you set in stone today may be worthless tomorrow.

3. Business objectives still count. You thought you were in the business of running a business? Think again. When your customers can make or break your business, when they can protest and boycott and rally their friends, fans and followers in an instant, you are in for a new way of setting your business objectives and trying to reach them. In the old days, you wanted to win over new consumers, hold onto your loyal consumers and upsell. Now you have to be aware of what your consumers are saying because their audiences are potentially much larger — and more influential — than your own, especially as your traditional means of communications are starting to fail. Newspaper advertising, anyone? Whose business is this anyway?

4. Decide, Communicate, Acknowledge, Incorporate, Decide, Communicate. Welcome to the new feedback loop. No longer do you put a “click to give feedback” link on your web site and call it good. You are now forced to share your process with your consumers, acknowledge their feedback publicly, actually consider and use some of their feedback, and even if you still feel like the buck stops with you, your company must communicate the end results of the feedback process. Consumer demand for participation and acknowledgment is insatiable.

As consumers, we used to suck it up and take it when we were using tools, applications, products and services created, managed and hosted by others. Today, we are almost drunk with the power we have to make or break a company by what we blog, tweet, Facebook, and more.

What are the new rules of feedback, input and transparency? And where should companies — and consumers — draw the line?

  1. When exactly did users become a torch-wielding mob instead of, uh, customers? The tone and tenor here makes it sound as if Twitter’s customers – they ones they but months ago announced intent to begin charging for services – are wrong to be angry when the usefulness of the service is reduced? Twitter may not charge for its accounts, but it is nonetheless a business with customers, and it has always been the case that if you alienate your customers, your business will fail.

    Twitter is a communications platform, and should be treated that way. If the phone company suddenly cut off long distance calling, are you suggesting that customers would just give up getting calls from anyone outside the local area? If a cell provider suddenly cut off data service, do you expect that it’s customers would just accept it and start using their $500 smartphones for calls only? No, absolutely not. Those customers would be outraged, and if the company didn’t hear their feedback and align their offerings with what their customers want from the service, the customers would go to a provider who would provide what they want, and the company would file for bankruptcy.

    That’s exactly what happened with Twitter. Twitter took away a communication option that a lot of people relied on. I personally used it not only to find new and interesting people to follow, but also for business leads. Now, I can’t see when one of my contacts says “@needy No, I’m not sure who you’d need for [problem].” Because I can’t see it, I can’t say “@needy @contact I do that – email me at useful@useful.com and I’ll get you taken care of.” A lot of other people obviously feel the same way, and I suspect they are the people who held Twitter up when it was no different than any other offering – long enough for Oprah to send a cavalcade of new users so Twitter could stab the old ones in the back.

    At the end of the day, Twitter’s main concern isn’t “How do we run this business?” it’s “How do we make our service useful to our customers so we have a business to run in the first place?”

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  2. Aliza,Great post.

    I am reading a book entitled:
    What Would Google Do ?

    A Lesson Learned:
    Your worst enemy could be your best friend.

    To all the BIG BAD dogs out there who are taking advantage of the underdogs, we will have out day. Your product and services are not the only on on the market.

    Listen to us WE want to help YOU be your best.

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  3. [...] nazgul’s got some excellent perspectives in a comment on Mashable.  Aliza Sherman’s The Growing Feedback Fiasco on Web Worker Daily sets #fixreplies in a broader context of how social networks are changing the [...]

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  4. As a consultant, I see the value of providing an online experience. Social media is a great example of an interactive digital medium with real power, provided you know how to use it. For the average small business, effectively navigating social media is largely about understanding Generation Y. Please see my review of Millennials and social media.

    http://thegreenmarket.blogspot.com/2009/05/power-of-social-media-and-importance-of.html

    See also the ways in which social media and sustainability are aligned.

    http://thegreenmarket.blogspot.com/2009/05/social-media-and-sustainability.html

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  5. The odd thing is, the lesson is hardly new and predates social networking/social marketing. Some years ago Ford Motor Company announced that it was revamping the always popular Mustang and basing it on the same Mazda-produced chassis/suspension that provided the underpinnings for the Ford Probe. Mustang fanatics (and yes, they ARE fanatical) let loose the shout heard ’round the world. Recalling the obnoxious and under=performing Mustang II, they prevailed upon Ford to change its plans. In the process, Ford became an auto company that listens to its customers. The company is actively engaged in social marketing.

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  6. Two words: New Coke.

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  7. [...] The Growing Feedback Fiasco (Web Worker Daily) [...]

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  8. This is just part of the general shift of corporations towards honesty. The transparency that social media is forcing on companies is making them become more open and human – no more small print and deals which trick you into signing up for something then charge you more than you bargained for – just straightforward honesty communicated in human language rather than corporate legal speak. Small businesses look to be leading the way – leveraging the fact that they don’t need to stoop to reach the customer’s level – they are already there. When will mobile phone companies get on board?

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  9. This user concerns issue is an interesting correlate to the strategic constraints that publicly traded companies face due to shareholder concerns.

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